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After evaluating more than 400 proposals submitted by industry and academic experts, NASA has selected Deep Space Industries to make three presentations during its three-day Asteroid Initiative Idea Synthesis Workshop later this month.
The 400 proposals were responses to a NASA Request for Information (RFI) about the best way to detect, characterize and utilize near Earth asteroids (NEAs). More than two million NEAs orbit the Sun in roughly the same path taken by Earth, and thus represent potential collision threats as well as potential sources of propellant and building materials to make in-space operations less expensive.
According to the NASA notice posted at www.nasa.gov/content/asteroid-initiative-idea-synthesis-workshop/, the Deep Space submissions were selected based on their "relevance to the RFI objectives, innovativeness of the idea, maturity of the development approach, and potential to improve mission affordability."
The workshop runs Sept. 30-Oct. 2 at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.
The presentations by Deep Space Industries (DSI) Chairman Rick Tumlinson and CEO David Gump propose several improvements to NASA's asteroid initiative:
-- The first step in the Asteroid Initiative should be sending out low-cost robotic scouts to photograph and collect data about potential asteroid targets. No images have ever been taken of NEAs smaller than 500 meters, a knowledge gap with consequences for planetary defense and resource development. (For example a 100 meter asteroid can potentially destroy an entire city/region).
-- Rather than attempt to find and deliver to Earth orbit a tiny, complete 8-10 meter asteroid, the goal should be to collect material from the surface of an easier-to-find larger asteroid. In addition, the collected bags of asteroid material will pose no threat to Earth's surface should control be lost over their trajectory.
-- Delivering large quantities of asteroid material to Earth orbit should be done on a commercial basis with NASA as one of the customers, alongside industrial users. NASA's asteroid delivery plan is to have crew in its Orion capsule visit the returned material in 2021 at a beyond-the-Moon rendezvous point and bring back only 100 kg out of the 100 to 500 tonnes available there. A commercial approach would plan for industrial use of the remainder from the very start of the mission. A commercial approach also would enable greater public involvement through the use of corporate sponsorships that NASA is barred from employing.
DSI is developing systems and technologies to prospect, harvest and transform raw asteroid ore into commercial products for in-space markets, where users such as communications satellite operators now pay $17 million per ton to get propellant and components launched from Earth. Propellant also is needed to sustain the orbits of space stations and other facilities now in development. Asteroid metals will be fabricated into components that expand the capabilities of in-space infrastructure, such as larger communications satellites and arrays. The ability to harvest space resources and carry out industrial processes in space will be the cornerstone of our future in space.
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